Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Friday, November 13, 2009

New books by friends, part 1: BOOKLIFE & me

Since flying from Siem Reap to Bangkok to Tokyo to D. C. to Albany, I have been roiled and clubbed and generally dragged in and out of sleep by raging jet lag. Twelve time zones appears to be too much for this body. Meanwhile the floor guys came and tore up multiple rotting floors in my 1808 house--antique larch and old-fashioned linseed-oil style linoleum going in--and computer and printer and camera and so on are lost in tottering towers in the dining room. Therefore I am putting off any notes on my adventures in Thailand and Cambodia, and I am doing something I have meant to do for months and months: put out the news about friends with new books. This and upcoming notes on books should not be regarded as reviews but as friendly introductions. Books by Howard Bahr, Philip Lee Williams, Corey Mesler, and a good many more are heaped on the corner of my desk, waiting for further attention.

Book no. 1 will be Booklife (Tachyon, 2009), for the happy reason that my still jet-lagged body must move a mere three feet to claim it. Jeff Vandermeer actually has two new books out, Finch and Booklife. I haven't ordered Finch as yet.

The world is awash in books about how to be a writer, but Booklife is a how-to of considerable interest. It pays a good deal of attention to how to live a healthy and healthy-minded life despite being a writer (there's a trick for many!), how to plan strategically as a writer, how to deal with gifts and not-gifts, how to make a living network of connections that are genuine rather than mere frantic attempts to scratch your own back with somebody else's fingernails, and how to navigate those pleasant little sloughs, rejection and envy and despair. Oh, there's lots more, right down to the nuts and bolts of the internet--twitterage, facebook-playing, blogging, and so on.

Though my next book will be my 8th, I still found much to contemplate in Booklife. I suppose the thing that prodded me the most is Jeff's emphasis on planning the future because I, like many creative souls, tend to be a tumbleweed catching the breeze and rolling until I meet a friendly or (alas!) not-so-friendly fence post. The Vandermeer mode--and it has certainly worked for Jeff as he climbed up from obscurity to the small presses to the mainstream--is to establish long-term goals. He has five-year plans, one-year plans, monthly tasks, and weekly tasks. He even has a mission statement that he revises from time to time. This is a pitch of organization that's way beyond the me of my first eight books. Yet I see much to admire in writing down what one wants to accomplish over a long period and in having a systematic way of examining accomplishments and adjusting goals. The Vandermeer method asks the writer to glance at long-term and short-term goal documents on a daily basis and also revises them quarterly. Such efforts have all the romance of a bank balance sheet, but they appear to be a way of pushing oneself forward--as in the practical, ordinary way that a dieter writes down each meal's calories in order to become aware of whether she is moving toward the desired goal and to increase motivation.

I'm going to try a little planning in the Vandermeer mode right now. I'll try and lay out some one-year goals . . .
  • PR Consider what to do in order to get ready for The Throne of Psyche when it comes out in hardcover and softcover in 2011. My last book of poetry (Claire, LSU) did not sell all that well. In this it was no different from almost all poetry books, and at that time I was constrained by a more-than-usual need to be home for my three children. I have greater freedom now. What can I plan to do and set in motion so that The Throne of Psyche can be more successful? Samuel Johnson sold by subscription; what can I do in 2010-11 to bring my book to a contemporary audience?
  • POETRY I already have an unsolicited request for a next book of poetry. That's pretty darn good, given the state of poetry publishing. Whether my third book of poems goes to that editor or not, I need to have a well-structured book of poems by next April. The poems are finished, but I need order. And the book must go out in May because I will be very busy in June and July.
  • POETRY Who knows how many new poems will come? That depends on the fount and the muse. Send them to poetry magazines that I like--particularly Mezzo Cammin and The Flea--and more general outlets. Think about the recent request for poems about the Asia trip.
  • SHORT FICTION Something to mull: I have enough short fiction to fill several wheelbarrows. What to do with these stories already published in magazines and anthologies? Given the state of the story market, what can be done? Collect or ignore?
  • SHORT FICTION Fill all reasonable anthology requests and follow the urgings of desire!
  • NOVELS I have manuscripts out at several good presses, all from surprise requests. I must say that I love being asked even more than I love being published by a prestigious mainstream publisher. This may be a less-than-stellar attitude, but it feels good to me. I need to place at least one novel in the coming year. And I ought to reread all novel manuscripts on hand.
  • NOVELS Do not write a new novel this year!
  • CHILDREN'S NOVEL I finished the draft of the novel written for my youngest child before I left for Thailand. Before Christmas I need a fairly high polish on the manuscript so that I can pass it on to my daughter for illustration--this is counter to the way things are usually done, but I'm committed to submitting this manuscript with illustrations. The novel contains a teenage girl who keeps a drawing journal, so the illustrations will be tightly bound to the text. The book needs to be submitted in 2010. It should go to FSG, where the majority of my books have been published, and to other editors who have asked to see my children's books.
  • MAJOR EVENTS Right now I'm up for three long events in the coming year--one as-yet-in-the-planning-stages week-long workshop for my own community, one visiting writer gig at the Hollins M. A. program in children's literature, and one stint at "Shared Worlds" at Wofford. Ponder what more is right for 2010, given family commitments and upcoming graduations?
  • REVIEWS Am I too busy to do reviews? Re-consider? I probably am, but perhaps it is worthwhile anyway . . .

That wasn't too painful; I'll have to look at it from time to time and see if I can make use of it. (Feel free to add some advice or corrective!) You may find some other aspect of Booklife to be fruitful; I recommend it as a handbook with more heart and wisdom than most.

Cautionary admission: Jeff quotes from me here and there, and there's a tiny essay on luck by me somewhere in the region of the appendix.

21 comments:

  1. I am awed by the extent of your busy-ness, your non-stop work, and here am I, sitting on my butt staring at the computer.

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  2. Small world. Two covers by the prolific John Coulthart, who recently gave a shout for my own 'Equus' on his blog Feuillton. For those interested in the art of cover design he often writes in detail about the processes of his work. Fascinating.

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  3. Robbi,

    Well, it was an experiment and a way of fooling with what the book might mean to a writer; it'll take a year to see if it means anything! Maybe it is just "a mouthful of air" and no more!

    Clive,

    I have seen some very interesting posts on Feuillton. And he has a lot on Alice illustrations.

    Here's a link to FINCH posters: http://www.johncoulthart.com/feuilleton/2009/11/08/finch-posters/

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  4. This was fascinating to read, Marly. I'm, as always, bowled over by your productivity and general joie de vivre. I do make plans and goals, as you know, but your plans are so thorough, multi-faceted, and well analyzed---you've gone the distance, I'd say! I'll have to mull over my next year's agenda, with Marly-thinking in my brain. If I can. Best of luck with all that you've got going on!

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  5. Hah! Laura, I am always impressed by the very same things in you! We shall have to do lunch next time I'm in Chapel Hill...

    I'm having a good day with new book requests. That's always encouraging.

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  6. Your year ahead sounds wonderfully complicated and creative. I am looking forward to your reports on your travels--what an amazing life you lead.
    (ah, the word verification is--undie)

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  7. jarvenpa,

    Complicated, definitely: like yours, mine is full of people, and that complicates much!

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  8. What a lovely way to collaborate with your daughter!

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  9. Happy Birthday!!!!!

    I hope you have a great year filled with family and friends.

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  10. Amanda,

    Yes, I hope it will work out that way--she has a lot on her plate.

    Hey there, O Susannah--

    Thanks for the wishes!

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  11. Did I miss the reference to your birthday? Well, I hope it was a happy one!

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  12. It was . . . a birthday. Much happened, ending with study: personal pronouns and the male and female reproductive system in more detail than anybody but a doctor will ever need to remember. Child no. 3 is my first athletic one. I predict that he will be very organized if he continues with four sports a year throughout school. Some day. Some day he will be organized.

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  13. Saw your twitter. Happy birthday. I will drink all the coffee so that you need never develop a taste for it. But you will have to share the chocolate.

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  14. jarvenpa,

    Please drink the coffee! We can squabble merrily over the chocolate...

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  15. How wonderful to have a sports child. I have one, or used to. He grew up, and is no longer playing sports. I am sure he misses it. My husband, of course, loved every minute of it. I grew to like the baseball, though sports in any form bored the hell out of me before. What does he play, and is he very good at it?

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  16. And why, pray, the study of these pronouns and reproductive apparatus? Writing project we should look out for?

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  17. Robinka,

    Pronouns and apparati: seventh-grade homework, done late at night and early in the morning because of wrestling.

    Oh, I think he's a very athletic sort of boy--lithe and quick. Sometimes he adores sports that are for bigger people in my opinion. He likes football very much. Wrestling: he's brand new there but was said to be quickest of the new guys at learning moves. But we play boys from the boondocks of New York, and I had no idea how important wrestling was there! Some of these boys have wrestled for six to eight years. Started as tots! Crazy. Next after this is track, I believe. Then baseball.

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  18. Well enjoy being a sports mom. I sort of miss it, now that it's over. My son still is an athlete at heart, but not a good or serious enough one to become professional (almost, perhaps, but no cigar).
    Thank you so much, by the way, for the heads up on the Qarrtsiluni chapbook review opportunity. I wrote my review. Go have a look at the blog. No one else seems to be checking in lately. Am I so boring? Hope not.

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  19. Robbi,

    I shall stop by.

    Don't worry about comments. I find that most people who come by don't leave a comment. If they do, I try and answer. If they don't, fine too.

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  20. Do you have a way of knowing if people have been visiting?

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  21. Oh, yes--there are heaps of free counters on the web. Just put in "free website counter" or something like that in Google search, and you will find many. Just pick what you like. Some are simple; others tell you where each visitor comes from and give you complicated stats.

    You can show that information on your blog page or you can choose an "invisible" counter that simply reports to you by email.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.